In praise of the amateur…

How often does perfectionism stop us from achieving worthwhile things? Or even trying to do them?

I’m thinking of one lady who earnestly said to me, “Oooh, you are brave! I’d never have dreamt of spinning in public for at least the first seven years,” when I volunteered to help out with something. Now, I could interpret that as a warning that I’m only going to make a fool of myself if I try to run before I can walk, though I really don’t think she meant it that way. But I don’t actually mind making a fool of myself, anyway; I’ve had a lot of laughs and met some lovely people that way. And whilst I admire hugely the consummate craftsmanship of those who spin the finest laceweight yarns to knit stunning, gossamer-thin ring shawls, I’m not sure that that tempts many people to try their hand at something new; I know that I was terrified I’d spoil what they were doing, the first few times I tried. Of course, I duly did. But then a kind lady spinning rough & ready rug yarn let me have a go, and it didn’t matter that I overtwisted, then undertwisted, then got my jumper tangled up in it, because we were both laughing so hard. I then went home, sat down with my own wheel and made mistakes perfectly happily until I’d got into the swing of it.

As far as I remember, there’s some research out there somewhere that shows that people learn skills best when they’re taught by someone who isn’t (or doesn’t seem to be) too far ahead of them. So I’m a bit disturbed by the drive to professionalise everyone everywhere who might be in any danger of passing their skills on; I already know several people who have “crashed” out of courses designed to turn them into “teachers/lecturers” when all they wanted to do was help other people start up in a rewarding hobby. Not to mention some of the outrageous demands of excessive legislation; one friend, who could (and indeed should) be teaching patterncutting, isn’t, because she can’t provide disabled access. In her own home. How many people with the kind of disability that would make access a problem would want to learn patterncutting in someone’s home? So the rest of us are denied access to her skills too, and she’s denied a source of much-needed income… I wouldn’t wish for one moment to cause any offence or distress to anyone, especially not a disabled would-be pattern-cutter. But political correctness and “professionalism” run riot are having exactly the opposite effect to enhancing diversity and opportunity, both here and in other ways I can think of.  

However, mostly it’s our own innate shyness and anxiety about getting things wrong that stops us from “having a go” and that’s something that we can, and indeed must, get over. If we’re going to learn how to make the best of a warmer, more unpredictable world, with less conventional energy available, we have to turn up our sleeves and get stuck in, without fretting that no-one else is doing it, or that we might get it wrong somehow. So next time you see a lady of a certain age making a fool of herself with a bit of craft equipment and a big grin on her face, please come on over & join me! 

PS – please would whoever searched for “passap machine knitting course dorset” in the last couple of days get in touch? There are several of us out here hunting for one; I have a lead to follow up & together we either have bargaining power or the possibility of working it all out between us!

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